INTERNET ON MY SKIN. Franziska Ostermann in conversation with Margaret Murphy

Franziska Ostermann is a multimedia artist whose main interests are contemporary photography, video and writing as well as their intersection. In her work she explores virtuality, matters of identity and the internet. She has been awarded by the British Journal of Photography and was selected as a FRESH EYES European talent 2021 by GUP Magazine, and she has taken part in numerous exhibitions nationally and internationally, for example in Korea, Hungary, the US, Paraguay, the Netherlands, Italy, Russia, Switzerland, Austria or France.

Margaret Murphy: Franziska, born in 1992, you came of age in the Internet era. Tell us about your relationship with the internet. How does it influence your art practice? 

Franziska Ostermann: We had a computer in the basement that would connect painfully slowly to the internet. Stepping down the stairs, I felt it pulling me into its realm. Where was I going? Did I leave my body upstairs? No, I was sure of my being alive, being a body. I used my fingertip to connect with this strange intangible creature called the internet. It was irregular, inept, vast, and incalculable. One gesture might take several hours. Through this limbo, I became bodiless, I entered a non-place, and I went searching for myself in it, side by side with a companion that was as youthful as me.

Looking back, this experience was interconnected with my photographic practice. I started when I was in my early teens. Growing up is an intermediate state, as a limbo, and within each other’s in-betweens, the internet and I were developing. Upstairs, with my camera, I took pictures of the body I had seemingly left behind during my downstairs endeavor. Through the camera, I made sure I existed in a corporeal form and in relation to everything surrounding me. I excessively visited both places. Soon, I found out that the pictures I took were mere deductions from my human form, a third place of possibility.

MM: Have you always worked with digital manipulation?

FO: I began experimenting with pictorial space early on in my practice. Consider, of course, that a photograph on its own, be it digital or on film, is always a manipulation from the start. A personal and mechanical framing of what has been. I took those fragments, these interpretations, and proceeded. I let splinters of separated subjects meet and was struck by the infinite potentiality of approaching space and time.

MM: Your work has a very limited color palette of mostly whites and other very subdued, neutral colors. Can you tell us why that is? 

FO: Depending on the color theory, white represents either the absence or the presence of all colors simultaneously. I don't think of it as limited at all. I started wearing white at a very formative time in my artistic process. I was in my first year of art school and was drawn to non-color as much as I was to photographing myself. Since then, for almost ten years now, they have been interwoven throughout my artistic practice. I can't fully interchange the colors of my body, skin, eyes, and hair by wearing white all the time. That is how they broke into their way into my work.

MM: Where does your work fit in the cultural feminist dialogue?

FO: While I am a fierce feminist, this political message is not what I base my work on. Identifying as female is a trade I bear on my body casually; by photographing it, I give it room. This already carries political meaning in the social fabric of our time. My work can be depicted as feminine, and connotations that are broadly considered as such can be found in it. Even though it was never intended as a message, it became one. It often brought great difficulties to my artistic career. Femininity is confused with irrelevance, still in 2022, still by people in power, still subliminal. I am sick of even saying this, even giving it room. But as long as this is still the status quo, I will do everything in my power to fight the tilt.

MM: What are the challenges that come with self-portraiture? The benefits?

FO: I am photographing myself. I am two at once. The photographer and the subject are photographed at the same time and in the same place. In between, I stand with the camera, which doubles and splits me around here. If I take the parts of two characters, then I can shoot from two angles and have more control over what and how I photograph. The photographic gesture is a powerplay; the subject feels herself becoming an object in the camera, the sight of the camera and her operator. I divide this power between me and the camera and get a little closer to what I want to collect, a little bit closer to depicting what is me.

MM: How do you feel NFTs are suited for the kind of art that you make? 

FO: With NFTs, digital art gained a port to new realms and a chance to unwind its ever-existing potential even more. Having always worked digitally, I can now send my digitals to further places without them losing their bond with me. This establishes more room to experiment, and the new ways of technical conduct are reflected in my process. The notion of disembodiment that lies in my work can be picked up through an NFT. The work can be created and manifested digitally.

MM: Who are some of the artists you admire and why?

FO: I connected with Arvida Byström in the early internet stages on Tumblr and have followed her work ever since. Being curated into the same display with her here on misa.art in " How We Feel“ is a full-circle moment for me. I admire how immediate artists like her or Leah Schrager confront themselves and us with bold femininity and explore what being online means today as a young woman. Looking back on the history of photography, the work of Francesca Woodman also moved me deeply, for I admire her self-evident way of working. Elina Brotherus's analytical, calm perspective on the photographic self-portrait fascinates me, too.

MM: Where do you see the future of contemporary photography heading? 

FO: Photography is being redefined at its borders by digitality right now. Since it entered the metaverse, the vortex of definition between analog, digital, or generated has led a lot of long-established parameters of the medium ad absurdum. What was ever the reason for the divide between analog and digital until now? Is photography still tied to the camera? This motion is opposed by a very present attachment to what was and nostalgia, using polaroid cameras or filters that make pictures look as if they were shot on film. The appeal of the immediate, the physical, the flaw bringing forth individuality, is like an assurance of the irreplaceability of one’s own life and being. These embody a longing for categorization of the medium. It is a sign of the inevitable: photography as we know it will vanish, or rather transform. I am interested in finding this notion of irreplaceability, attachment, and feeling in the digital realm. By finding the gaps and disruptive points in between, artists can make the steps in between fusions visible and thus trace back the anatomy of the process. Photography is moving to different rooms; borders and bonds are being fathomed.

Please click HERE to browse through Franziska Ostermann's NFTs. 

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